Beethoven Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
François-Frédéric Guy presents his Beethoven Piano Sonatas not in chronological order, but in the sequence in which he likes to perform them. These are, in fact, ‘live’ performances, with some audience noise in evidence, but the applause is included only at the end of each disc, rather than after every work.
Without doubt, Guy is a superbly accomplished pianist, and these are mainly impressive performances, characterised by warmth and expressive insight as well as technical brilliance; and yet, for each sonata that is an unqualified success, there is another that seems to be misconstrued. The well-known Tempest Sonata is satisfying throughout, and so, too, are the Waldstein and Appassionata Sonatas (though some may find the finale of the latter a little too agitated), as well as the late Sonata No. 28, Op. 101. But Guy’s tempo for the finale of the witty first work in the Op. 31 series, Sonata No. 18, is too fast to convey the music’s grace and elegance, and his helter-skelter account of the finale of the F sharp Sonata No. 24, Op. 78 risks degenerating into a scramble. There are times, too, when the rhythmic freedom of the playing in evenly pulsed music becomes disturbingly erratic: the slow movement of the Pastoral Sonata No. 15, for instance, or the middle movement of No. 16, and the minuet of No. 18.
Among pianists of Guy’s generation, Paul Lewis offers a more consistently convincing view of these works.